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Centipede

CentipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Apparently, the exterminating business is getting more dangerous. In the course of trying to wipe out some vermin, you find yourself on the defensive – any of them can kill you simply by touching you. Fleas drop from the top of the screen, leaving bothersome mushrooms in their way. Scorpions periodically See the videopoison the mushrooms, making them impossible to destroy. And a pesky spider is always dancing around the screen. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: I was never that hot on Centipede, but this is mainly due to the fact that its trakball controller pretty much ensured that I sucked at this game. But many people just loved it. With the benefit of hindsight, and slightly better hand-eye coordination, I can now see why. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandBuy this gameThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your three missile bases are armed with nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on any of your three launch bases will incapacitate that facility for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke See the videohit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Possibly the first video game ever to register on the so-called moral compass, Atari’s Missile Command contained a strong, anti-nuclear message, arriving at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. For those of you who weren’t alive at that time, here’s a little bit of historical context. Continue reading

Red Baron

Red BaronThe Game: Take to the sky for some biplane battle with Baron von Richtoven himself! In a combat environment where banking too sharp can either be a daring maneuver or certain doom, your mission is to take out as many enemies as you can See the videoBuy this gamebefore you yourself accumulate too many bullet holes in the sides of your biplane. Dirigibles also make tempting targets and, for the truly daring, there are land-based tanks nestled near mountains and civilian homes. The game is over when the last of your planes is shot down. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Emboldened by their first-person tank combat simulator Battlezone, Atari also set out to create the first ever first-person flight combat simulator. (Presumably this fascination with first-person combat sims predated Atari’s shotgun wedding with the U.S. Army that resulted in the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle Trainer.) And lest you think there’s no connection between Battlezone and Red Baron, take a close look at that cabinet – it’s exactly the same design as the Battlezone cabinet, minus the periscope-style viewer and second joystick. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestBuy this gameAs a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things (swirly thing alert!!) which spin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. See below. (Atari, 1980)

See the videoMemories: Tempest is a bizarre little game to crack. Since you spend your time rolling around a vaguely tubular structure, the game is controlled with a knob only, and surprisingly, the speed with which you move the control is reflected in your onscreen speed. With some practice, Tempest was a truly addictive, engrossing game, one of the arcade’s best. Continue reading

Warlords

WarlordsBuy this gameThe Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball (multiple fireballs as the game progresses) around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Your launcher doubles as a mobile barrier See the videoaround your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your curiously Vader-esque opponents. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Far more famous at home on the Atari VCS than it was in the arcades, Warlords was a really fun game with the right group of friends (or friendly enemies). I’ve only ever seen one machine, and it was a cocktail table (or, to use less industry-specific jargon, a “sit-down”) version – and now that I think about it, it seems like Warlords would have been a bit difficult to pull off as an upright cabinet, but uprights did exist – with B&W monitors only. Continue reading

Black Widow

Black WidowBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a spider whose web seems to be a popular hangout for any number of flies who seem to have an aversion to getting caught there. So you’re left with the only option nature leaves open to a spider in this scenario: you shoot your prey down and eat the yummy grubsteak that’s left behind! Some bugs will have the whaudacity to lay their eggs in your web, which you can either push off the edge (a risky trick depending on how “developed” some of the eggs are) or wait to hatch into more bugs that you See the videocan shoot down. Beware of “grenade bugs” which destroy everything within a certain radius around them when you shoot them; they may take out other adversaries as they go, or destroy you if you’re too close. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Black Widow is a fun number which smacks of an attempt to do Robotron: 2084 in vector graphics. It’s also one of the handful of Atari arcade games sporting the color vector monitor, which was prone to numerous technical glitches (not the least of which was overheating to the point that capacitors melted off the board). What vector graphics had over traditional raster displays, however, was fast action, and Black Widow is a beauty in that respect. Within only a few levels, the action is almost too much for the average player to handle. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if Buy this gamea Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. Who said landscaping was easy? (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: Dig Dug, with its animè-inspired cutesy characters and exceedingly simple game play, was a wonderfully easy game to learn, and it didn’t take much effort to reach a high score. (Dig Dug II, on the other hand, relied on a strange pseudo-3D, slightly-but-not-quite-overhead perspective which added to the difficulty, creating problems similar to playing Zaxxon or Congo Bongo.) With its simplicity and cuteness, Dig Dug was big with the younger set. Continue reading

Kangaroo

KangarooThe Game: As a mama marsupial trying to save your baby from many malignant marauding monkeys, you go on a rescue mission that involves climbing through many, many levels of the monkeys’ treehouse village, punching primates, dodging airborne apples, grabbing various fruit items along the way (considering the abundance See the videoof apples, strawberries, cherries and bananas, one can only assume these are Pac-Man’s table leavings), and avoiding the big, purple boxing-glove-stealing ape. (Atari [under license from Sun], 1982)

Memories: While some American coin-op game companies jumped on the license-from-Japan bandwagon and scored big early on, such as Midway (who imported Space Invaders and Pac-Man from two different Japanese game makers), Atari was a long-time holdout. Atari’s internal coin-op division was its own internal hit machine, and that simplified things when the consumer division needed hot new arcade titles to translate to the company’s home game consoles. Continue reading

Liberator

LiberatorBuy this gameThe Game: So, you’ve always wanted to pilot the Liberator? If you’re talking about the Atari Force’s trusty little flotilla of space fighters, you’re in luck. Your four fighters take up positions at the four corners of the screen, and you use a trackball to aim a cursor; hitting the fire button fires the weapons of the ship nearest the cursor. Basically, the “Malagon Army,” according to the introductory screen, has pulled off a See the videostrategic (to say nothing of logistical) coup in invading the entire galaxy – and you and your four fighters are supposed to free…well…the entire galaxy. Hopefully you packed a lunch. At the beginning of your mission, you’re trying to pick off Malagon scout ships in deep space. You then move on to a succession of planets where you have to take out missiles (and the ground bases that hurl them at you) and enemy satellites. Letting a missile through can begin to cost you ships quickly, and when all four fighters are fragged, you’re finished. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: An interesting game, Liberator, even if it breaks my heart by teasing me with that name and then having nothing to do with the starship of the same name from the 70s BBC space opera Blake’s 7. (Actually, it would almost make as much sense to adapt this game to that storyline as it did to try to attach it to the Atari Force comic books, which were shipped with numerous Atari VCS cartridges but had no prior presence in the arcade.) Continue reading

Millipede

MillipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Once more unto the breach, your garden of mushrooms is now under attack by a millipede, and the big bug’s even nastier insect entourage has come along too. The spiders, scorpions and fleas are now joined by mosquitoes and inchworms, among others. The only advantage you have? Occasional containers of DDT (can you tell this was the 80’s?) will allow you to wipe out all targets within a given radius…but use them wisely! (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Another rare Atari sequel – from a company that tended to at least try to stay away from repetition – Millipede of course picks up where Centipede left off – in the same garden, with lots of bugs. A major ad campaign kicked this one off, with Atari using the then-world-champion of Centipede as a spokesperson to verify that this game was, indeed, fun and challenging. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionBuy this gameThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (I’ve always wondered anyway: why are there billboards around a racetrack? Are race car drivers a desirable demographic to advertisers? Can they actually read those signs at 200+ MPH?) (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

See the videoMemories: First off, a note to our loyal readers: I hope you’re happy! Pole Position is, by a vast margin, the single most-requested, most-asked-about game ever at Phosphor Dot Fossils. You should see some of the mail I’ve gotten regarding this game’s absence in the past few years – accusations of everything from bad taste to just plain incompetence. Well fear not, faithful Phosphor Dot Fossils followers, for I actually love this game. Continue reading

Tunnel Hunt

Tunnel HuntThe Game: Piloting a ship navigating a tunnel in space at breakneck speeds, your mission – aside from screaming down that tunnel way over the speed limit without getting too far off course- is to dispatch countless suspiciously bow-tie-shaped fighters before they get a clear shot at you. (Has anyone ever wondered what all these See the videoshort-range fighters are doing out here? Bah, never mind. Probably got separated from a convoy or something.) If the enemy ships do manage to get a shot off, you have a narrow window of opportunity in which to intercept the incoming laser fire – very narrow, considering how fast everything is moving. Fire too much, and your lasers overheat and become temporarily useless. Stray too far off course, and your hull temperature shoots upward until your ship explodes. (Atari, 1979 – released by Centuri in 1982)

Memories: This oft-forgotten gem in Atari’s coin-op library may well be the very first first-person arcade flight sim, and it’s an eye-searingly psychedelic riot of colors to boot. That this game isn’t recognized in the same annals as Atari’s Asteroids or Tempest for innovation probably goes down to its obscurity. Continue reading

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and Buy this gamedeadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: A very cool game indeed, Xevious was extremely challenging and quite nice to look at as well. The controls were smooth, and you really did have a full range of control over where your fighter was on the screen. Continue reading

Arabian

ArabianThe Game: Bring your turban up to speed! As you’re serenaded with a monophonic rendition of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”, you climb and jump and kick your way to collecting all the letters on the screen. If you collect them in the See the videocorrect order to spell ARABIAN, you get a bonus before moving on to the next screen. And watch out for the big genie… (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This is a rather cute and simplistic game, but it’s not a pushover. I can’t tell you how many quarters Arabian relieved me of. And even while playing it in MAME to grab screen stills for this page, it kicked my scrawny little pixellated butt. Continue reading

Crystal Castles

Crystal CastlesBuy this gameThe Game: You are Bentley the Bear, cuddly defender of a vaguely 3-D fairy tale realm just loaded with ruby-like crystals. While this would seem like an idyllic existence for many sentient stuffed animals, it is, of course, not that easy. Berthilda the Witch has sent her evil minions to seize the crystals for her. Walking trees, See the videoupright centipedes, and animated skeletons prowl the geometric vistas to keep Bentley from claiming the crystals. Finding the wizard hat will briefly give Bentley the power to dispose of Berthilda if and when she makes an appearance. Bentley also has a weakness for the pot of honey that appears on each level – and if he grabs the honey, a swarm of bees suddenly has a problem with him. Clearing each screen of crystals advances to the next level. Keep in mind that the enemies can also consume crystals, so they may actually clear the level – Bentley gets a bonus if he’s the one who nabs the last gem on the screen. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: A bizarre little game with play elements of Pac-Man set in an almost Q*Bert-like perspective, Crystal Castles was actually quite the quantum leap forward for graphics back in ’83. (It would later be blown out of the water by Atari’s own Marble Madness not long afterward.) It was also one of the earliest games to utilize Atari’s System 1 hardware. Continue reading

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes BackBuy this gameThe Game: You are Rebel snowspeeder pilot Luke Skywalker, flying low over the surface of Hoth, prowling for Probots and waging war on AT-ATs and AT-STs. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: The description sounds rather glib, but there’s a simple reason for it – this game, based on the 1980 sequel to Star Wars, is – in case you hadn’t guessed it from the screen shots – merely a very thinly-disguised makeover of Atari’s original Star Wars arcade game. Ripped straight out of the second level of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back replaces the towers and bunkers with probe droids and Imperial Walkers, replaces the X-Wing gunsights of the earlier game with two Snowspeeder blasters, and voilà, it’s a new game – almost. Continue reading

Food Fight

Food FightThe Game: You are Charley – but you don’t have the Golden Ticket. Instead, what you have is a playfield littered with immobilizing potholes, lots of food, and four feisty chefs (is there a different word for the plural of “chef”?). Charley Chuck can pick up handfuls of food and fling them at any one of his opponents, but keep in mind that they can do the same. Charley’s ultimate goal? Reach the yummy ice cream cone at the opposite end of the screen without falling victim to any of the above. To do any less causes every piece of food on the screen to hurl itself at Charley. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This bizarre little game is the first original arcade effort from a small game design firm called General Computer, which was actually responsible for Ms. Pac-Man, which started out as an unauthorized modification kit. Caught in the act, General Computer’s founders offered the game to Namco, and it went on to become the best-earning arcade game of its day. A similar “enhancement” devised for Atari’s Missile Command, however, got them in hot water. Continue reading

Gravitar

GravitarThe Game: Various worlds lie near a powerful gravitational vortex. From the moment you leave your launch pad, you’re in trouble – the vortex will draw you in if you don’t act quickly and fire your thrusters to take you to one of the planets. On each planet, you arrive in a deadly free-fall, requiring you to point your ship Buy this gameupward and fire retro-thrust, all the while turning to blast cannons which are attempting to shoot you down. Your fuel supply is also dwindling all this time, requiring you to find enemy fuel depots and siphon energy away from them. If you succeed in destroying all enemy installations on one world, there are several other planets waiting – with the deadly gravity vortex in the middle the whole time. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Damn, but this is a tough game! Tough but fun. It’s pretty embarrassing to get oneself iced on what basically amounts to the menu screen. Sheesh. Not that I’m saying that’s happened to me lately, of course. Continue reading

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